By Rielyn R. Campbell
I think Jackson Katz said it best in his Ted talk from November 2012, “A lot of men hear the term “women’s issues” and we tend to tune it out, and we think, “Hey, I’m a guy. That’s for girls.” Or “That’s for the women.” And “a lot of men literally don’t get beyond the first sentence as a result.” I hope if you are a man reading this, you get past the first sentence.
On June 19, 2014, I attended the Lean In session (link through Mayo Clinic intranet only), hosted by Mayo Clinic’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and several Mayo Employee Resource Groups (MERGs). After opening remarks from Dr. Morie A. Gertz (Chair, Department of Medicine), Krysta L. Lambert (Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery), and Sandra M. Burrowes (Public Affairs), the discussion began with a quick summary of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, by Dr. Bobbie S. Gostout (Chair, Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology). This was followed by four wonderful panelists, who shared their insights. I am encouraged and happy these conversations are happening at Mayo Clinic. They will hopefully be a cause for change.
Panelists, from left to right: Leon G. Clark (Vice Chair, Research), Ann M. Torkelson (Division Chair, Human Resources), Jill M. Ragsdale (Chief Human Resources Officer), and Barbara L. Porter (Administrator, Office for Diversity and Mayo Clinic Quality Academy)
At first, I was happy to see how many attended. Three hundred registered with nearly a hundred more on the wait-list. However, as I looked around the room, I was disheartened. The vast majority of the attendees were women which only furthered my belief that this is a real concern at Mayo Clinic making it an opportunity for change. What disappointed me the most was the observation that of those in attendance, I did not see one straight white male who was not there working; caterer or audiovisual technician. Considering white males are the majority in leadership, this was very discouraging. It made me question if these issues are being recognized by anyone other than those directly affected. We need men be a part of this discussion because they are part of the solution. “Adult men with power are the ones we need to be holding accountable for being leaders on these issues….one of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say some things that sometimes women can’t say, or better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying….we need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them…” (Jackson Katz, Ted Talk, November 2012). I challenge every white male to read this book and be a leader to help bring change for the other 50% of the population. “It is not possible for the junior women to get enough support unless senior men jump in too.” (Sandberg, 2013, p. 71).
I would like to share some issues I have observed or experienced. I started at Mayo Clinic as a medical secretary trainee and worked as a medical secretary for 4 and a half years then transferred to an administrative assistant position in education. In both of these positions, there are few opportunities to advance. One option is to take on a supervisor role. Unfortunately, without previous supervising experience, this option is out of reach. To make matters worse, I have not been able to find career development opportunities that would help me gain this experience in my current position. I have explored resources at Mayo Clinic intended to help employees advance but of those I have found, they are directed towards those already in leadership positions leaving those at the “bottom” feeling stuck. This may be an issue specific to these jobs, but considering support staff (medical secretaries and administrative assistants) are predominantly women, it becomes a women’s issue as well.
Being in education as an administrative assistant, there is an additional opportunity to be an education administration coordinator. These opportunities are few and far between so when an opening becomes available, there is an overabundance of applicants vying for one position and many are overqualified. To my knowledge, the next possible steps for an education administration coordinator require experience one cannot obtain in their position like supervision, and majority of the time (if not always), they require a master’s degree. Considering a degree is not required to be an education administration coordinator, this is a huge gap in the career ladder that many find very difficult to jump.
The support staff at Mayo Clinic is behind the scenes keeping this engine running smoothly. They are extremely talented and amazing people who need to have the opportunity to play a bigger part at Mayo Clinic. Their perspective is one that is not well represented in leadership, and it should be. Many technology, policy, and process changes put into place affect these employees but most leaders making these decisions don’t know the impact it will have on the jobs of those who support our consultants and leaders. These employees adapt without skipping a beat and Mayo Clinic continues to run like the well-oiled machine it has grown to be. The knowledge these employees must have to do their job would be invaluable to improving the efficiencies of this organization and yet they have limited opportunities to be at a table to “lean in” to. Here is an entire population of women (with a few men) who I feel have been neglected and ignored with regard to career advancement. I would like to see a program put into place that helps this untapped human resource advance in their careers and create more opportunities to fill the gap in the career ladder.
From my observations and experiences, it seems being a woman in one of these positions, in particular, makes it impossible to avoid being treated differently compared to your male peers. I have found that this group is often excluded, overlooked, ignored, and not taken seriously. They are often not included in meetings that are relevant to their work and their ideas are frequently not taken seriously. The job titles create a bias that results in being treated as an inferior and the expectation is that they don’t have anything valuable to contribute to the discussion before they even have the chance to open their mouth. Male colleagues have shared and been praised for an idea that was shared months before by female support staff but was dismissed. Women’s successes are often disregarded and even when they are acknowledged, they are immediately overshadowed by the successes of a male colleague. These issues are very real at Mayo Clinic, and we need all hands on deck to change it.
I was afraid to write this blog but I realized that is just the reason I must. I felt it was important to tell this story and this perspective because some may not even realize what is happening right under their noses. We lose many fantastic and amazing women because they leave Mayo Clinic for opportunities they don’t have here. This is a problem that can only be solved if everyone works together to make a change.
Rielyn R. Campbell was born south of the twin cities and raised in Cresco, Iowa. She has worked at Mayo Clinic for seven years and is the Education Administration Coordinator for the Office for Diversity in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, which includes support services for this Blog.
Editorial comment (Andrew M. Harrison): As one of the few white men to attend this event (as a small group facilitator), I was reminded of the continued failure of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the origins of which date back to slightly after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (women’s suffrage) in 1919. This thought is in the context of historical, organized women’s support for equality movements ranging from the prior abolition movement to the future gay rights movement. Ironic, as our society and even medicine have already moved on to other equality movements, such as paternity leave.